More than 100 dead, as many as 1,500 missing after floods hit Europe
More than 1,000 people were still unaccounted for early Friday after raging floods in western Europe left at least 100 people dead and communities devastated as frantic rescue efforts entered a second day.
In Germany more than 90 people were killed after heavy rains pounded the country's western states and caused rivers to burst their banks, turning streets into torrential rivers that left vehicles overturned and submerged in deep muddy waters, while some houses were reduced to rubble.
Residents were airlifted from rooftops and rescued in inflatable boats after seeing their homes inundated with floodwater.
At least 50 people were killed in the western German state of Rhineland-Palatinate alone, officials said, while 43 were killed in neighboring North Rhine-Westphalia.
As many as 1,500 people in the country were also still assumed to be missing, with hundreds of soldiers deployed to aid the rescue effort.
Officials said they hoped the high number of people still unaccounted for was due to mobile networks and internet connections going down, making it difficult for many to reach their loved ones.
Storms also caused deadly flooding in neighboring Belgium, with local media reporting at least 12 deaths as of Friday morning. Luxembourg and the Netherlands were also hit by heavy rains.
Andreas Friedrich, a German weather service spokesman, said some parts of the affected regions saw "very severe precipitation" that was comparable to the amount usually expected in two months.
The ensuing floods were some of the worst seen in Germany in decades, Freidrich said. However, he said the level of destruction caused by the disaster has much to do with where torrential rains hit.
"This is a special situation," he said. "In this region, we have small valleys, small rivers and of course, with the big amount of precipitation in a short time, we've had floods and damage in this region."
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was in Washington, D.C., on Thursday to meet with President Joe Biden, said the situation was "characterized by fear, by despair, by suffering."
Hundreds of thousands of people were faced with catastrophe, she said, as homes had become death traps.
"My empathy and my heart goes out to all of those who in this catastrophe who lost their loved ones or who were still worrying about the fate of people still missing," she said.
The chancellor said she feared that the "full extent of this tragedy will only be seen in the coming days".
Biden also expressed his condolences on behalf of the American people to those affected by the flooding in Germany and other countries.
In Schuld, which is in Ahrweiler, a rural district in the north of Rhineland-Palatinate, Edgar Gillessen said the devastation was "simply catastrophic."
"All these people living here, I know them all. I feel so sorry for them. They've lost everything. All they have is what they've had on them — it's all gone," Gillessen, 65, told Reuters. "A friend had a workshop over there, nothing standing. The bakery, the butcher — it's all gone. It's scary. Unimaginable."
Meanwhile in North Rhine-Westphalia, Armin Laschet, the state's governor and the conservative hopeful seeking to replace Merkel in the country's upcoming September election, called an emergency Cabinet meeting for Friday on the response to the floods.
“We don’t know the extent of the damage yet, but we won’t leave the communities, the people affected, alone,” he said during a visit to the city of Hagen, which was hit hard by the extreme weather.
In addition to the growing death toll and hundreds missing, thousands of people were left homeless by the disaster after seeing their houses destroyed or deemed at-risk by authorities.
In Belgium, the Vesdre River broke its banks and sent torrents of water churning through the streets of Pepinster, close to Liege, its destructive power bringing down some buildings.
France sent a helicopter and a rescue team to Belgium to assist local authorities, and Italy and Austria have offered flood rescue teams, the European Commission said.
The president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, said that her thoughts were with those affected by the flooding in Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands and that the European Union stands ready to help.